What to Watch For: Week Eight
Nondivisional games dominated the schedule in Week Seven and offered plenty of tantalizing matchups, but the Shore Conference returns to action in Week Eight with a bevy of divisional contests.
Top-ranked Middletown South passed another big test when it took down No. 6 Brick Memorial 21-3 last Friday. The Eagles’ defense limited one of the Shore Conference’s best offenses and capitalized on turnovers to further their case as the No. 1 team in New Jersey and move toward locking up the top seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group IV.
No. 8 Red Bank Catholic rebounded from a loss with a 33-14 victory over Manalapan thanks to a big game by senior quarterback Eddie Hahn. The UConn recruit had his best game of the season in throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns and running for 87 yards.
No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven handed Lakewood its first loss of the season with a 30-14 win, and No. 3 Brick recorded its fifth shutout of the season in a 24-0 win over Colts Neck.
Point Boro held off Raritan 33-27 to improve to 7-0 as it makes a run at the Class B South title, and Matawan won its fourth straight after an 0-3 start with a 38-7 win over Long Branch. Holmdel picked up its first win of the season with a 34-3 victory over Pinelands, and Lacey also got into the win column with a 27-0 shutout of Jackson Liberty. Wall kept its playoff hopes alive with a 26-20 double-overtime win over Neptune.
Middletown South in A North, St. John Vianney in A Central and Red Bank in B North each have the inside track to their respective division titles and are expected to officially wrap up those championships over the next few weeks. A South, B Central and B South still have title-deciding games coming up, starting with a titanic matchups on Friday between No. 3 Brick and No. 7 Toms River North. Both teams can clinch at least a share of the division title with a win and the unbeaten Dragons can move within one win of locking up the title outright.
In B Central, Point Beach hosts undefeated and 10th-ranked Shore in the first of two straight pivotal games for the Blue Devils. If Shore can defeat Point Beach and then Asbury Park next week, it will claim the division title outright for the third straight season.
Point Boro heads to Jackson Liberty on Friday and Lakewood hosts Barnegat on Saturday as both teams try to remain unblemished in the division. As long as both teams take care of business this weekend, their Nov. 7 game will be for the division title.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Eight:
A South Slugfest
No. 7 Toms River North heads to No. 3 Brick on Friday night for a game that will ultimately decide the Class A South division title. The Green Dragons are one of six undefeated teams in the Shore Conference and can clinch at least a tie for the division crown (they play Toms River South next week). Toms River North has won five straight since a Week Two loss to Brick Memorial, and can open the division up for a two- or three-way tie for the title with a victory.
Brick’s defense has been one of the overarching stories of the 2015 season. The unit, led by defensive coordinator Brian McNamara, has been arguably the most dominant unit in the Shore Conference this season with five shutouts and just 20 points allowed. No team has scored on Brick in the first half this season, and only Brick Memorial and Lacey have managed any points against them. Senior defensive end Jordan Keefe has 16 to lead a great defensive line that also includes disruptive senior Dan Finelli and his brother, junior Jack Finelli, and senior Anthony Rusignuolo.
The Dragons’ defense swarms to the ball, and it shows on the stat sheet. Linebacker Cory Wilson leads the team in tackles with 62, but there is plenty of balance with Tommy Keoplinger, Dean Helstowski, Shaun Smith and Keefe all registering over 50 tackles. If you really had to find a weakness for Brick’s defense it’s that it hasn’t forced many turnovers (8), but that arguably makes the performance this season even more impressive. Brick’s defense is simply stopping teams from doing anything productive on offense. No team has had success moving the football against the Dragons.
Friday’s game against Toms River North will be the unit’s biggest test of the season, however. The Mariners have the Shore’s third-highest scoring offense at 38 points per game and can attack teams equally as efficient on the ground and through the air. Junior quarterback Mike Husni is on his way to a second consecutive season of 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing with 899 yards passing and nine touchdowns and 675 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns through seven games. He is one of the conference’s best playmakers and a presents multiple problems for opposing defenses because of his ability to make plays outside the pocket.
Husni pairs with senior running back Asante Moorer to form a dynamic duo of power and speed. Moorer has 778 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns this season, plus two more touchdowns receiving. When he is on his game he is a punishing runner who can take over a game, like he did in a 33-23 win over Jackson Memorial in Week Five. Brick will need its swarming defense to fly to the ball all night, because bringing down Moorer with one tackler is rarely done.
The matchups between the respective offensive and defensive lines will also be huge. Brick’s offensive line has paved the way for an efficient offense to grind teams out, and with its defense yielding next to nothing this season the Green Dragons have been able to cruise on that side of the ball. Brick’s defensive line dominated in a Week One win over Brick Memorial and was solid in a 2-0 win over Jackson Memorial in terrible conditions. They will need another big performance against a Toms River North defense that features one of the best lineman in the Shore, senior Dashon Copes, and junior linebacker Pete Laquaglia. Brick has been able to run the ball at will with juniors Jay Obenauer and Rashon McCall at tailback and junior Ja’Sir Taylor on sweeps from his wide receiver position, but has not been put in a position where it has had to throw the ball while playing from behind.
The matchups that figures to decide the game is Toms River North’s offensive line versus Brick’s defensive line. Mariners senior offensive lineman Luke Butera, the leader of the veteran unit, told Shore Sports Network’s Kevin Williams and Matt Harmon on the “Thursday Football Show” that Brick’s defense has been able to get into the heads of opposing teams early and ride that mental edge. The Finelli brothers have combined for 44 tackles for a loss this season, so keeping them out of the backfield is a must for the Mariners up front. If Toms River North’s offensive line can get the upper hand it dramatically increases its chances of winning.
There are so many big games in Class A South during the season, but it usually comes down to a pair of ranked teams in a late-season showdown to decide the division title, and that’s exactly what we will get Friday night at Brick’s Keller Memorial Field. Both teams are state title contenders, as well, so a win here could also be the launching point for a championship run.
B North Battle
No. 8 Red Bank Catholic hosts No. 9 Ocean on Friday night at Count Basie Field in a key Class B North game between ranked teams.
The Caseys enter at 6-1 after a 33-14 victory over Manalapan in Week Seven where senior quarterback Eddie Hahn had his best game of the season. The UConn recruit threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns while running for 87 yards as RBC scored the final 20 points of the game to rebound from a loss the prior week.
Ocean is 5-1 with its lone loss - like RBC - coming to No. 4 Red Bank. The Spartans had a bye last week and have had two weeks to prepare for the Caseys. Both teams have state championship aspirations, so this game and its potential power-point haul for each team are crucial. The Caseys, the defending NJSIAA Non-Public Group III champions, are currently fourth in the bracket. The Spartans are in the Shore-heavy Central Jersey Group III bracket with Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank, Matawan and Wall, are are currently fourth.
Both teams have balanced offenses, but both also work to establish the run first. The big matchup here is Ocean’s running game versus Red Bank Catholic’s front seven. The Spartans have one of the area’s best running backs in senior Tyler Thompson, who has 897 yards rushing and 13 total touchdowns. If he can get going it opens things up for junior quarterback Kenny Pickett to make some plays, which he has done several times this season in throwing for 768 yards and nine touchdowns. Red Bank Catholic has actually allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to Red Bank’s Alim Godsey and Manalapan’s Marcus Salinas, so there is precedent for Thompson heading in.
Red Bank Catholic will look to counter with its own running game led by senior running backs Dylan Murphy and Mike Wilen behind a powerful offensive line headed by Duke recruit Liam Smith. Murphy and Wilen have combined for just under 1,000 yards rushing while scoring 16 touchdowns this season. Murphy and Wilen are also the Caseys’ top two tacklers on defense with 74 and 58, respectively. Hahn has thrown for 977 yards and six touchdowns while running for 259 and two touchdown.
No. 10 Shore heads to Point Beach on Friday night for a pivotal Class B Central game.
The Blue Devils are unbeaten at 6-0 and are seeking their third straight division title. Point Beach is coming off a 14-7 loss to Highland Park and will enter at 3-3. The Garnet Gulls have just one divisional loss, however, so a win here would set them up to potentially get a share of the division title. Shore needs to beat Point Beach this week and Asbury Park next week to lock up the championship.
Shore has basically bludgeoned everyone in its path and has a top-five scoring offense and defense. The only team to keep it close was Spotswood in a 7-3 Shore win in Week Two. Since then the Blue Devils have scored 46, 44, 45 and 52 points while allowing just 26 total points. Their balanced rushing attack has senior Jack Britton leading the team with 493 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
Point Beach is led by sophomore quarterback John Nista and sophomore running backs Luke Frauenheim and Chris Webber. Both teams run the Delaware Wing-T offense and have plenty of history against one another, so there won’t be any surprises Friday night. It will come down to who can run the ball better and stop the run, and so far this season that has been Shore.
Freehold heads to Manalapan on Friday night in a Class A North game where it will try for its first win over the Braves in at least 12 years as it fight for a top-four seed in the playoffs.
Freehold is coming off a 45-20 win over Toms River East to improve to 5-2, while Manalapan heads in losers of two straight to Middletown South (42-7) and Red Bank Catholic (33-14). Manalapan is not at the level it was last year when it won the Central Jersey Group V title for the first time, but is still a quality team that will make almost certainly make the playoffs regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game. The Braves’ strength lies in its running game. Senior tailback Marcus Salinas has 829 yards rushing and seven touchdowns behind a standout offensive line. Sophomore quarterback Luke Corcione has thrown for 314 yards in three starts.
Freehold has a pair of big-time weapons in senior quarterback Jake Curry and sophomore running back Ashante Worthy. Curry is on his way to a huge season with 920 yards passing and 12 touchdowns along with 471 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Worthy has 902 yards rushing and nine total touchdowns. Jamel Smith-Rush, Markee Gill and Matt Krauss have all been effective threats on the perimeter for the Colonials.
More to watch:
**Matawan (4-3) goes for its fifth straight win when it travels to Manasquan (3-3) on Saturday. Despite starting 0-3, the Huskies could be in line for a top-four playoff seed in Central Jersey Group III.
**Wall (2-5) needs a win over winless Colts Neck on Saturday to stay alive for a playoff spot in Central Jersey Group III. The Crimson Knights are currently eighth.
**Freehold Township (3-4) needs a win over Edison (2-4) on Friday night for a chance at the program’s second state playoff berth and first since 2001. The Patriots are currently eighth in Central Jersey Group V, but just 10 points separate spots six through 12.